It is not the final anyone expected, but after Saturday’s action in the Big Ten tournament, Ohio State will play Penn State on Sunday for the Big Ten championship. The two teams both won their semifinal games with convincing performances in which their stars came out and helped carry their team to impressive victories.
Ohio State defeated Michigan 68-61 on Saturday afternoon in the league's first semifinal. Jared Sullinger was not quite his usual dominant self, but still had beastly moments, scoring 14 points and finishing with 13 rebounds in the victory. Jon Deibler added 16, including two big shots during a 16-0 run in the second half that helped push the Buckeyes lead to 63-45, from which the Wolverines could not come back. With the victory, Ohio State has set itself up to potentially be selected the No. 1 overall seed on Sunday when the brackets are announced, regardless of the final outcome of the Big Ten tournament. A conference win however would make the Buckeyes the first repeat Big Ten tournament champions since 2000.
Thad Matta’s team’s opponent will be Penn State, thanks to an impressive 61-48 victory over Michigan State. The Nittany Lions have been one of the surprises of college basketball this season, but came into the Big Ten tournament likely needing a couple of wins to ensure a berth in the NCAA tournament. On Saturday however they looked clearly the part of a NCAA team, shutting down Michigan State offensively and getting terrific performances from Talor Battle and Tim Frazier. Battle scored 25 points in the victory and Frazier had a spectacular 22 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists to help Penn State produce one of their most complete performances thus far this season.
The final will be a repeat of a game from just two weeks ago, when Ohio State took out the Nittany Lions 81-62 in University Park, Pennsylvania. Penn State had no answer then for Jon Diebler, who set a conference record by draining 10 three-pointers in the game and making a mockery of the Nittany Lions’ perimeter defense. Stopping the three point shot, while still finding a way to double team Jared Sullinger in the post is a hard row to hoe for any team, but is especially crucial for a Penn State team that likes to play with so few offensive possessions.
From the outset, Ohio State will seek to control tempo and keep the game at much faster pace than Penn State has been accustomed to seeing so far this tournament. Penn State’s defense has been the story early on in the Big Ten tournament and they are only allowing teams to average 45.3 points a game against them in Indianapolis. Expect Ohio State to quickly force transition opportunities, while making Penn State run much more than their opponents have so far in Big Ten play. When the two teams played a close game in Columbus earlier this year, it was because Ohio State allowed Penn State to dictate pace, a mistake I don’t expect them to make in the final.
Sunday will be a big day for Ohio State regardless of the game’s outcome. The Buckeyes are certain to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and may very well end up its overall No. 1 seed. Penn State has had an impressive run thus far this week and has likely played its way into the final 68 Sunday evening with its impressive (if visually unappealing) performances. But the ride is likely to end on Sunday, as Ohio State crushes its dream of winning the first conference tournament title in school history, on the Buckeyes' path to a potential Final Four destiny.
Posted by Matt Jones
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